Hypertrophic and keloid scars fail to progress from the CD34−/α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA)+ immature scar phenotype and show gradient differences in α-SMA and p16 expression

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Background: Our understanding of the pathogenesis underlying keloid scar formation is still very limited, and the morphological distinction between hypertrophic and keloid scars remains difficult. Objectives: To test whether hypertrophic and keloid scars may reflect an inability to progress from immaturity to the desired mature normotrophic scar phenotype. Methods: Using whole-biopsy imaging and an objectively quantifiable way to analyse immunoreactivity, we have compared the immunohistopathological profiles of young immature scars with mature normotrophic scars, hypertrophic scars, and keloids with their surrounding-normal-skin. Results: Abnormal scars (hypertrophic scars and keloids) maintain the immature scar phenotype, characterized by a CD34− (tumour biomarker) and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA)+ (myofibroblast) dermal region. This is in contrast to normal skin, surrounding-normal-skin and mature normotrophic scars that were CD34+/ α-SMA−. Immature, hypertrophic and keloid scars showed abnormal epidermal differentiation (involucrin), but only hypertrophic scars and keloids showed increased epidermal thickness. Immature scars did show increased epidermal and dermal proliferation (Ki67), which was absent from abnormal scars, where mesenchymal hypercellularity (vimentin) and senescence (p16) were predominant. Keloidal collagen and α-SMA were previously considered to distinguish between hypertrophic scars and keloids. However, α-SMA staining was present in both abnormal scar types, while keloidal collagen was present mostly in keloids. There were no obvious signs of heterogeneity within keloid scars, and the surrounding-normal-skin resembled normal skin. Conclusions: Both abnormal scar types showed a unique CD34−/α-SMA+/p16+ scar phenotype, but the differences between hypertrophic scars and keloids observed in this study were of a gradient rather than absolute nature. This suggests that scar progression to the mature normal scar phenotype is, for as yet unknown reasons, hindered in hypertrophic and keloid scars. What's already known about this topic?. Hypertrophic and keloid scars both have sustained epidermal barrier dysfunction, suggesting the persistence of an immature scar phenotype. Morphological distinction between hypertrophic and keloid scars remains a topic of debate, although α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and keloidal collagen have been considered distinguishing features of hypertrophic and keloid scars, respectively. It has been suggested that keloids are not simply homogeneous growths, as heterogeneity within keloid scars and possible involvement of the surrounding-normal-skin have been reported. What does this study add?. An extensive whole-biopsy imaging and quantifiable immunohistochemical assessment of immature, mature normal, hypertrophic and keloid scars, including normal skin surrounding keloids. Hypertrophic and keloid scars maintain dermal characteristics of immature scars, rather than transitioning into the normal mature phenotype. Differences between hypertrophic and keloid scars were of a gradient rather than absolute nature, with keloids showing the more extreme phenotype. There was no obvious heterogeneity within keloids, and the normal skin surrounding keloids resembled normal skin. What is the translational message?. Keloids remain primarily a clinical diagnosis. A raised scar with the CD34−/α-SMA+/p16+ phenotype with strong immunoreactivity for p16 and significant amounts of keloidal collagen, together with a thickened and strongly abnormal involucrin-stained epidermis, would sway the diagnosis towards keloid scars. A hypertrophic scar seems more likely when the CD34−/α-SMA+/p16+ phenotype shows very strong presence of α-SMA+ in large dermal nodules, with lesser p16 staining and absent or negligible keloidal collagen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)974-986
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Journal of Dermatology
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

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